In the days of slavery, not much detail was given to black family history and black family records. For this reason, Booker T. Washington knew little about his early childhood and exact details of his birth. He didn’t know the exact time nor the exact place but assumed it was in 1856 near Hale’s Ford, in Virginia. Washington remembers the dismal surroundings and the sad time it was for those of color. He didn’t know very much about his father, who was not a part of his life and who may have been white. His mother was a slave and plantation cook, who worked long and hard with little time for her children.
Booker lived in an unkept cabin, sleeping on the floor on rags with his older brother John and his sister Amanda. There were no windows and his mother would steal food for them to eat late at night. There were never family dinners or prayer over food. There were scraps to eat and a piece of bread here and there. The shoes were wooden and shirts were made of flax. These shirts were very uncomfortable, kind of like a torture to wear until they were worn in. There was no time at all devoted to play because every minute there was work to do.
Washington had to walk three miles from the plantation to the mill weekly to take corn to be ground. As a slave, he would carry water to men in the fields as well. There was no schooling, that would be paradise to him. Even though the slaves around Washington were not near any large city, railroad or newspaper, they knew of the Civil War and the main issue of slavery. They knew of battles won and lost. They did not feel bitterness against the whites and took good care of their masters. However, every slave wanted freedom. This is one thing that Booker T. Washington knew for sure.
Washington got his dream of becoming free. His family moved to West Virginia after they were liberated. However, Booker still had to work every day and it was not easy. He would wake up at 4 a. m. and work at the salt mine until 9. From there, he would go to school just to return to the salt mine from 2 to 9 at night. He would work a 12 hour day, but he liked it because he gained an education that helped him further in life. Soon he became friends with the founder of Hampton Institute. Because of this friendship, Washington was given a full scholarship to Hampton Institute. He could not have been happier.
Hampton Institute was an industrial school that taught Booker T. Washington crafts and skills that made him, and other blacks, valuable to society. When he graduated in 1875, Washington attended Wayland Seminary for just under a year. While in school here, Washington’s belief of self-help was taught. His short stay at Wayland Seminary was followed by a teaching position at Hampton Institute. This was the beginning of Washington’s career as a powerful black leader. (Securing and Education…) In 1880, the Alabama State Legislature established a school for blacks in Macon County.
This school was name the Tuskegee Normal School for the training of Black teachers. Samuel Armstrong was selected to pick a white teacher who would be the principal of the school. However, Armstrong suggested that Washington should get the job. Washington was accepted and immediately began to advertise the school, recruit students, and sought the support of local whites. After the school opened in 1881, Washington, along with his 30 students, began to build classrooms, a chapel, and a girl’s dormitory. Within a few years, they were finished.
Booker T. Washington took a school that was nearly nothing and turned it into a school with more than 400 students and training that focused in on many skills. Some of these skills included: carpentry, cabinetmaking, printing, and shoemaking. Women learned how to cook and sew. Washington wanted to emphasize manners and character building to help build a sense of pride and dignity within the student. He believed this would help them later in life as individuals and wanted his students to be able to earn a living anywhere.
(Educating Others…) In 1895, Booker T. Washington took a big step in becoming a leader of the black race when he gave his Atlanta Compromise Speech. Washington gave this speech to a crowd that mostly consisted of white southerners. This is a small excerpt: “The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing.
No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house” (Booker T. Washington Atlanta Compromise 1895).
He insisted to the whites that blacks were loyal and would prosper in hard work. Washington explained that any race that doesn’t give anything to society is basically excluded, as they should be. He urged the whites to come together with the blacks so that, together, they can advance in agriculture and industry.
A few years later in 1900, Washington established the National Negro Business League. He wanted to promote “commercial, agricultural, educational, and industrial advancement and the commercial and financial development of the negro. ” (Booker T. Washington on the National Negro Business League) This business league would hopefully encourage blacks to start their own businesses.
Washington believed that if they proved they could run a business, then blacks had the capacity to obtain the same economic success as whites. And if blacks had the same economic success as whites, they would be able to have the same right to vote and due process of law. This, in the end, would lead to equality. Washington received support from many powerful businessmen including steel king Andrew Carnegie, John Wanamaker, and Julius Rosenwald. (Richard Wormser, National Negro Business League) Booker T. Washington wanted African Americans to be respected in society by all peoples.
However, for the time being, Washington wanted blacks to accept the discrimination against them and focus on improving themselves as individuals in all aspects. Some of these aspects included things such as education and the learning of farming and industrial skills. He believed that if African Americans used self-help, the promotion of themselves, and hard work, whites would begin to acknowledge them and stop discriminating against them. Some of these philosophies were expressed in his autobiography Up From Slavery which was published in 1901.
This book was very popular and detailed the highs and lows of Washington’s life. Booker T. Washington was granted an honorary master’s degree from Harvard University in 1896. He also received an honorary doctorate in 1901 from Dartmouth College. This was a tremendous achievement for Washington and showed him his ideas and philosophies were respected. They were respected by many people across the nation, including the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. Booker T. Washington became the first ever African American to have dinner at the White House in 1901.
This dinner lead to a relationship with Roosevelt and William Howard Taft where Booker was the chief black advisor to the two presidents. This sparked a lot of controversy around the United States. The controversy was mainly by Republicans who thought Roosevelt shouldn’t be bringing a man of color into the white house for dinner. Roosevelt liked Booker T. Washington and believed they could work well together. Despite the support from presidents and many other well respected men, Booker T. Washington also had some critics. One critic was sparked by the Atlanta Compromise. His name is W. E. B Du Bois. W. E. B.
Du Bois was a strong African American leader who founded the NCAAP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and believed blacks should fight discrimination with political action and protest for civil rights. He wanted to develop what he called “the Talented Tenth. ” Du Bois believed 1 out of every 10 black men would become leaders and he strived to make this one/tenth better in order to lead the black race. He expressed most of his opposition of Booker T. Washington in his book The Souls of Black Folk. Washington tried to help improve and even save the lives of blacks in the south in the early 1900’s.
There was growing black and white opposition with the Jim Crow Laws. These laws prohibited blacks from socializing with whites. They insisted that whites were socially better than blacks and interaction between the two races would suggest they were equal. Under the Jim Crow Laws, blacks could not show public affection with each other because it offended whites. Also, the schools for white children and black children were to be separate. For violating these laws, blacks faced severe punishment. Blacks could lose their jobs, homes, and sometimes their lives.
Lynching was a common way for a black person to be killed. Washington tried to help blacks by sending letters in code names and protecting them in lynch mobs. (Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology) Even though Booker T. Washington was disgruntled with what was going on with the Jim Crow Laws, his main objective was still the improvement of blacks and their position in society. Washington was entrusted 1,000,000 dollars by Anna T. Jeanes. She, Henry Rogers, and others helped fund Washington so he could build elementary schools in the south where the area was poor.
Washington also went on a speaking tour across the U. S. on the new railroad. On this tour, he preached and promoted the black race to all of his audience. This tour, however, was very grueling and left Booker T. Washington very ill. Before he died, he said “I was born in the South, I have lived in the South, and I expect to be buried in the South. ” Booker T. Washington’s wish was granted and he died on November 14, 1915 at Tuskegee Institute. Many people believed he died of kidney failure. Booker T. Washington left an amazing legacy. He promoted the black race and built the character of them.
He strived to make life easier for blacks by having them work hard and take responsibility for their life. He, himself, was the biggest example of this in his early childhood when he would work and go to school all in the same day. He learned responsibility at an early age and this transcended over to his black followers. The “self-work” that he preached is the backbone that many people live by today. His granddaughter, Margaret Clifford, says “When I went to high school, even though he had been dead for some years, his educational practices were still in practice. They explored all the trades.
The girls explored cooking, sewing and handicrafts the first two years, and the last two years they specialized. ” Her quote says that Washington’s practices and beliefs are still as evident today as they were 100 years ago. Washington’s accomplishments and his promotion of the black race lead to many recognitions after his death. He was the first African American to appear on a postage stamp. He also was honored when his face appeared on a 50 cent piece. These are just a few of the many ways that Booker T. Washington will be remembered. He deserves much praise for the advancements he made in the life of colored people.